Keller resident must pay former mayor $50,000 and apologize in ad as part of libel settlement

As part of a settlement in a libel case, a Keller resident must pay former Mayor Julie Tandy $50,000 and pay for a newspaper advertisement retracting statements in an earlier ad that accused her of wrongdoing, court papers state.

Jack Brock wrote in an ad he placed in the Keller Citizen in May 2007 that Tandy acted unlawfully during the city's proposed acquisition of a drainage easement on Brock's land.

The ad ran eight days before an election in which Tandy was defeated.

The settlement was an unusual instance of a public official receiving damages in a defamation case, said Tandy's lawyer Shauna Wright of Kelly, Hart and Hallman in Fort Worth.

"This is an affirmation of [Tandy's] strong case and the gravity of Mr. Brock's wrongdoing," Wright said. "There is no constitutional right to tell lies about the mayor during an election."

The Supreme Court's 1964 ruling in The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan set the standard of proof of defamation higher for public officials than for private citizens.

An official must prove not only that the statement in question was false but also that the person making it either knew it was false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth -- a standard known as actual malice, said Jason Gillmer, a professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law.

"It is a much higher standard and the reason that damages for public officials are rare," he said.

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Brock said he settled the case on the advice of attorneys and declined to comment further.

According to court papers, Brock had been involved in a legal dispute with the city over a condemnation proceeding to acquire a drainage easement on his land, and as a result he was a vocal critic of Tandy's while she was mayor.

The ad, which was published May 4, 2007, suggested that Tandy had improperly backdated documents with her signature regarding a plat of land and that she had voted to "steal" Brock's property.

The ad also stated that Brock had asked his attorneys to contact authorities to initiate criminal charges against Tandy for fraud, according to court documents.

As part of the settlement, Brock is required to pay $900 to publish a retraction in the Wednesday edition of the Keller Citizen, Wright said. The retraction, which was included in case filings, acknowledges that Tandy did not backdate her signature.

It also retracts Brock's accusation that Tandy voted to "steal" his property (she did not vote on the issue at all) and states that he does not believe she committed any criminal offenses in her capacity as mayor.

"I acknowledge that Ms. Tandy ... acted with the honesty and integrity people expect of their public officials," it states.

Tandy was elected mayor in 2003 and served two terms.

ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689